US weekly jobless claims fall near four-year low

The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits slid in the latest week to its lowest level since 2008, according to a report today from the US Labor Department.

The decline is the fourth in five weeks and the latest signal that the US job market is steadily improving, the Associated Press wrote.

The number of applications filed for federal unemployment benefits dropped by 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, the Labor Department said. That figure represents the smallest number of claims filed in a single week since spring of 2008 – months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the government rescue of Bear Stearns.

A four-week average of unemployment claims – the number looked at to smooth volatility in the data – also was down for a fifth straight week to 365,250.

When jobless claims drop to a level consistently below 375,000, it typically is a signal of hiring activity strengthening enough to pull down unemployment rates.

The US unemployment rate stood at 8.3 percent in December as widespread private sector job creation created new job opportunities. That rate had climbed as high as 10.2 percent in October 2009, the first time it had crossed into double digits in more than a quarter of a century.

“The economy’s wheels just keep spinning faster and faster,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd., told Bloomberg News. Rupkey is expecting nonfarm payrolls in the US to climb by more than 200,000 for a third consecutive month in February, Bloomberg said.

Economists told Bloomberg they expect more good news on the US job front. “Businesses are realizing that in order to compete they need to not just keep their labor force, they need to expand it,”  Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc., told the news service. “This shows that the strong job gains we’ve seen in the last few months aren’t a fluke.”

More from the GlobalPost: Economists react to a stellar US jobs report.

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